False claim: Obama’s Columbia University ID card shows he was a foreign student

Social media users have been sharing an image online that claims to show former President Barack Obama’s student ID card while he was at Columbia University. It includes a photograph of him with the name “Barry Soetoro” and the words ‘Foreign student’ underneath in capital letters. 

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Examples can be seen here and  here .​

One post reads: “Well well well.... look whats surfaced. Lets see how long it takes for it to be taken down. Until then, share the [expletive] out of it!” Lower down, it says: “Facebook is taking this photo down left and right. Make it go viral!”

A Google search shows that this false claim has been circulating for years. Snopes reported in 2012 that the ID card with the number shown in the image belonged to a student named Thomas Lugert ( here ).

The photo of the original ID appears on a blog that Lugert wrote about his experience at Columbia University ( ). The word "student" in Lugert’s ID has been altered to "foreign student" in the claim. ​

ID cards like the one shown in the claim weren’t introduced by Columbia until 1996 ( here ). Obama graduated with the class of 1983 ( here ).

The photograph of Obama used in the claim is from a book about his life. It can be seen on the cover of "Barack Obama: The Story" by David Maraniss ( here ).​

Soetoro was the last name of Obama’s Indonesian stepfather Lolo. It may have been used in the claim to make him sound more foreign ( here ) ​

Obama served two terms as U.S. president, from 2009 to 2017. In 2011, he took the rare step of publishing his long-form birth certificate to prove that he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and rebut conspiracy theories – backed at the time by Donald Trump, among others - that he was not born in America and therefore ineligible under the constitution to be president. ( here ). Trump abandoned the ‘birther’ claim in 2016 after promoting it for five years ( here ).


False. The image purporting to be Barack Obama’s ‘foreign student’ ID card is a fake.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact checking work  here  .​